Congo train crash kills at least 100: government

KINSHASA Thu Aug 2, 2007 2:39pm EDT

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KINSHASA (Reuters) - A train crash in a remote part of Democratic Republic of Congo killed at least 100 people and injured more than 200, the central African country's minister of information said on Thursday.

"We are still discovering the dead. So right now we are putting the death toll at about 100," Toussaint Tshilombo told Reuters, adding that the cause of the crash was still unknown.

"It happened late last night, so we haven't had time to look into how it occurred. But we are sending a team tomorrow, and we will launch an investigation."

The accident took place late on Wednesday near Benaleka, around 220 km (140 miles) northwest of the town of Kananga in Western Kasai province.

Injured survivors initially walked or were transported by bicycle from the scene of the wreck 12 km (7.5 miles) to the nearest hospital, Congo's U.N. peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MONUC, said.

Of more than 220 hurt, 128 people were seriously injured, it said.

The U.N. peacekeeping force helped with rescue operations on Thursday.

"It happened last night around 11 o'clock. This afternoon we sent a helicopter with doctors, nurses, and local authorities. At the moment, they are on the ground there," said Alexandre Essone, a MONUC public information officer in Kananga.

"We suspect there still may be people trapped under the wagons. We need heavy machinery, though, to lift these wagons," he said.

The government was planning to send a delegation including cabinet ministers, medical personnel and additional medical supplies on Friday to help in the aftermath of the disaster, Tshilombo said.

Congo has few paved roads outside the capital Kinshasa, and many Congolese rely on trains as the only affordable way of crossing the central African nation's vast interior.

Derailments are a regular occurrence and fatal accidents are common in Congo, which is still recovering from decades of mismanagement and a 1998-2003 war that killed an estimated 4 million people and left infrastructure in ruins.

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